denmark

Looking for birds and plastic in Denmark

Reflecting on my recent research trip to Copenhagen

©Erica Cirino. Eurasian magpie. 

©Erica Cirino. Eurasian magpie. 

People who love birds look for birds wherever they go. I happen to be one of those people. 

When I recently took a trip to Denmark, early morning bird watching with my Alaskan malamute dog became one of the most pleasurable parts of my daily routine. We’d walk from our fifth-floor apartment in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro neighborhood down and around the three manmade lakes that run through the heart of the city. Because where there is water, one will often find birds.

©Erica Cirino. Sortedams Sø, one of the three lakes that run through the heart of Copenhagen. 

©Erica Cirino. Sortedams Sø, one of the three lakes that run through the heart of Copenhagen. 

©Erica Cirino. Foosa, my birdwatching buddy.

©Erica Cirino. Foosa, my birdwatching buddy.

And we did see birds, my dog and I. They belonged to an interesting array of species: hooded crows, Eurasian magpies, mute swans, mallards, pigeons, great blue herons, Eurasian coots, great cormorants, black-headed gulls, red-necked grebes….

©Erica Cirino. Black-headed gulls. 

©Erica Cirino. Black-headed gulls. 

©Erica Cirino. Male mallard duck. 

©Erica Cirino. Male mallard duck. 

©Erica Cirino. Eurasian coots.

©Erica Cirino. Eurasian coots.

Seeing so many birds in one small urban environment was heartening. But the birds’ habitat itself wasn’t always pretty. The lakes in Denmark — like many water bodies all over the world — are filled with plastic. Some of it is thrown there intentionally, while the rest blows in off roads and out of trashcans.

On more than one occasion I watched plastic bags — just out of my reach — blow across the water’s surface past the many birds that floated there. A lot of the bags, and other plastic trash — like water bottles, balloons and children’s toys — sank to the bottom of the lakes, right where many of the water birds dive and dabble. Research on plastic suggests bottom-feeding organisms are ingesting the stuff — so there’s little reason to believe the birds I’m seeing aren’t scooping some of it up.

©Erica Cirino. Mute swan in trash-filled water. 

©Erica Cirino. Mute swan in trash-filled water. 

©Erica Cirino. Close-up of trash (mostly plastic) next to mute swan. 

©Erica Cirino. Close-up of trash (mostly plastic) next to mute swan. 

There is a big political push now in Denmark to combat plastic pollution. SF, a left-wing political party just introduced a new bill that would help do that. Pro-environment nonprofits and non-governmental organizations such as the Danish Ecological Council are pushing for it to become law.

According to the Danish scientists I met with, one newly identified source of plastic pollution is plastic microfiber found in clothing. This microfiber can be found in wastewater sludge, which is used to fertilize crops — from which plastic is probably being washed off by rain back into the oceans and other water bodies. To limit this type of plastic pollution, scientists say plastic-free clothing as well as upgraded sewage and sewage treatment technologies are needed.

So, while plastic is now getting a lot of political attention in Denmark and other parts of the world, only our own actions can prevent pollution. And scientists say that means we need to use less or no plastic, and if we do use it we must take care to dispose of it properly or take measures to ensure it doesn’t end up in natural ecosystems.

Until we do these things, we can expect to see plastic collecting quite unnaturally amongst the birds and other wild creatures — where it should not be.

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Erica Cirino is a freelance science writer and artist based in New York, who is traveling the world to bear witness to plastic pollution and meet with plastic experts. She’s currently giving and scheduling presentations about her findings as part of her Go and See Tour: A Discussion About Plastic Pollution at high schools, colleges and public places. She is the recipient of a 2017 Safina Center Kalpana Launchpad Fellowship, which is helping support this project. 

Originally posted to the Safina Center Blog on March 28, 2017. 

Erica goes to Denmark

This past Saturday, I stepped onto European land for the first time in my life: Denmark. I'm here to do some scientific research for my Go and See speaking tour and stories about plastic, meet up with sailing friends and of course, explore.

I've settled into my new "home" in Nørrebro, a really beautiful part of Copenhagen, living on the fourth floor of a five-story walk-up apartment building. 

Foosa isn't the biggest fan of all the stairs, but she seems to be settling in just fine.

We're close to shops, cafés and just a minute's jog from a series of five lakes, each about a mile in diameter. Their dirt paths are perfect for running and dog walking. I have the feeling I'm going to come back to the U.S. in really good shape. 

I've only lived abroad once before, for a few weeks in Costa Rica. I've also lived off the grid on a sailboat for more than three weeks which is virtually the same thing; being so isolated you might as well be on another continent, or even another planet. In any case, I'm liking this whole life abroad thing. 

Learning a new culture–new mannerisms, language, cuisine, lifestyle–is rewarding. It puts you outside of yourself, opens your eyes to the way others live and current events in other countries. With the political climate of the U.S. currently in full-freakout mode, I'm quite grateful to be away for a while. While I still read about my country's news online, I'm far enough away from the real thing physically that it makes me less anxious. That said, I'm still working hard to change the way things are going, and being away is making that a lot easier.

With that said, I'll get back to work. I'm currently working on a few science stories that I need to wrap up so I can get back outside and do some serious adventuring. And maybe grab an øl. 

Tak for læsning! Follow me on Instagram (@ericarunsamerica) to see my latest Denmark photos and updates. Just look for the hashtag: #ericagoestodenmark🇩🇰